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The Rundown on Antibiotics and Gut Health – Striking that Fine Balance


Reviewed by Dianne Hinton, NP, PA of Forum Health Modesto

Ever since the pandemic started, more people have flocked to their physicians in the attempt to spot early signs of a viral infection, and of course, get the right treatment to prevent severe symptoms from setting in. This might be a noble goal, especially if you’re a parent and you want to make sure your kids’ immune systems are strong, but it comes at a price: many doctors will prescribe high doses of antibiotics as a precaution, without fully taking into account the antibiotics’ long-term impact on your kids’ gut health.


Over the past several years, new research has emerged showing just how vital our gut and microbiota are for our immune strength and overall wellbeing. In many ways, the microorganisms that reside in our digestive tract help regulate our immune system, as well as our ability to make the most of the food we eat, and our metabolism in general. Understanding how antibiotics impact gut health can help you make smarter health-related decisions, both for you and your child. Here’s what you should know.

How Do Antibiotics Work?

The main purpose of antibiotics is to kill bacteria or to stop them from developing any further in your body. Of course, there are many kinds of different antibiotics that your doctor can prescribe.


For example, the most fundamental categories include broad-spectrum antibiotics that can destroy both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, and these antibiotics are particularly useful when a doctor doesn’t have enough time to determine precisely the kind of bacteria that is causing the infection.


Then there are narrow-spectrum antibiotics, which are prescribed when your doctor can determine the precise strain of bacteria that is causing the infection. If your doctor can do that before any severe symptoms develop, they will most likely choose this route to be safe.

Why Antibiotics Disrupt the Microbiome?

Alas, antibiotics can’t tell the difference between the healthy microorganisms in your gut and the harmful intruders that have caused the health problems to begin with. So, as antibiotics work to cleanse your body of harmful bacteria, they also kill the healthy gut bacteria that you need for a strong immune system.


When you or your child need to use antibiotics for a prolonged period of time, the antibiotics will wipe out the good and healthy bacterial strains in your gut, or at least cut their numbers significantly. That lack of balance will allow those less friendly bacterial strains to flourish, which can then lead to inflammation, infections, and numerous health issues that start in the gut.


This is the primary reason not to resort to antibiotics unsupervised and without a direct recommendation from your doctor. Even if you do so believing you’ll prevent a severe form of a viral infection such as COVID-19, your physician should be the one to make the call based on your health or your child’s health.

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects

Parents, take note: antibiotics are often necessary and extremely helpful for when your child gets sick, but they are not the silver bullet for all ailments and health issues. The risks of self-administered antibiotics are far more complex for you and your kids, especially if you go back to this method of treatment frequently and without your doctor’s supervision.


In the short-term, antibiotics can cause an imbalance in your gut flora, allowing the more harmful bacteria to develop. That alone is enough to make your kids more susceptible to infections. Then again, your gut might not be able to absorb all the nutrients you need, and you might experience unpleasant issues such as diarrhea or bloating.


As for the long-term impact of excessive antibiotics use, you might increase the risk of developing antibiotic resistance, which means it will be all the more difficult to treat illnesses that do call for antibiotics.

Filling the Nutritional Gut Gaps

Instead of perceiving antibiotics as the be-all and end-all of medicine, functional medicine strives to provide a more holistic take on health. Simply put, yes, antibiotics do have their place in preventing the spread of harmful bacteria when there’s an infection, but all the while minding your gut health.


By introducing probiotics and prebiotics into your diet while you’re using antibiotics (and well before), your body will be better equipped to battle any infection and make the most of the antibiotics you’re taking. This bundle for adults and children, for instance, includes the most useful gut-friendly essentials for elevating your immune strength and the health of your gut flora.


You can always consult your physician to see if there is a probiotic-based supplement you or your kids can take to protect your microbiota when you’re taking antibiotics.

Prevention Is the Best Medicine

Infections are practically a given, so the occasional viral or bacterial infection is part of your children’s journey towards building their immune systems. Help your kids develop healthy eating habits, and implement them in your own daily life. Rely on nutrient-dense foods that are brimming with gut-friendly ingredients such as vitamins, minerals and prebiotics to give your body what it needs to ward off infections to begin with. 

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